Instead of shopping, ogle some art

Kicking off our new series “Instead of shopping” (aka what to do instead of impulse buying), is art! Now before you think “daubs of paint — yawn,” let me explain (with a bit of a preamble):

I am an art history major (also known as the most-employeable degree ever known to humankind! Errr not). I had no intention of becoming an art history major until I sat in on a introductory class my freshman year and just swooned. Not over the beauty (or the fact that it was easier than a International Relations/Spanish Literature major), but because it made life feel bigger, deeper and more wonderful than anything I had studied before.

And even if you aren’t an art major, or even an art fan, what can change your approach to art is learning just a wee bit about what you’re looking at. And you can do this even if you don’t have a museum in your town or can’t find any satisfying art history books in your local library. Here are two great starting points:

Watching Sister Wendy on the youtubes

This beautiful and free art history site called Art History Project

And now what does this have to do with not shopping? Immersing yourself in a new learning experience (specifically one so enticingly visual) will completely trick your brain out of thinking that getting a pair of booties to go with that dress is of the utmost importance (I mean, you can’t beat this guy at the boot game anyways — Karl Lagerfield wishes he came up with those!).

Let me know — did it work? Did you curb your shopping impulses for the moment?

One Pair of Sunglasses

When Lar and I first posted our inventories earlier this year, I got a text from a friend that said, “One pair of sunglasses only?!” That was when I realized I had gone from a hoarder of sunglasses (lots of cheapies) to a single sunglasses owner without even realizing it. I remember giving away a bunch at some point, but my goal wasn’t to just own one pair. It just turns out the only sunglasses that “sparked joy” were my Marc by Marc Jacobs cat eyes (see photo above). I wear them all the time and have for years – evidence here, here, here, and here. Lar even got the same pair because she liked them so much (that’s Lar above left and me above right).

This is all to say that owning one nice thing versus lots of not-as-nice things really is all it’s cracked up to be. I never miss not having more sunglasses options and after three years, this one pair has held up really well.

Since I’m on the subject of nicer things, I do want to point out that I’m not talking about luxury items. I’m not going to run out and buy a beautifully-made Mansur Gavriel bag and give away my current bag collection. For one thing, learning to live with less isn’t about getting new stuff (even if it’s better made), it’s about appreciating what I already have. And I also don’t have anywhere close to $425 to spend on a bag (which by luxury standards is cheap). Those Marc by Marc sunglasses I keep going on about? One reason I could splurge on a pair of $120 sunglasses is because we receive gift cards from our long-time blog sponsor (see widget to the right) Shopbop.

Without Shopbop sponsorship money, Lar and I would not have a lot of the luxury pieces that we do in our closets like Lar’s Ferragamos and our matching gold Jennifer Zeuner bracelets. We try to be conscious of buying items that are made ethically and that we’ll wear again and again and again.

Even so, Lar and I have been discussing how we would like to approach sponsors now that we are learning to live with less stuff. This might mean that in the future our sponsorship changes or we go without consumer-driven sponsors.

We’d love to hear your feedback too.

If you guys are saving up for some “luxury” items, Shopbop is currently having a sale (see details below). Also, we are interested to know what our readers define as luxury because we know, for us, it doesn’t just mean designer or expensive.


Thank you, red coat!

I wear black most of the time. It’s so easy! And so forgiving! And I can pretend I look artsy or Parisian-ish. But apart from the preponderance of dark neutrals in my closet, red is the other favorite. It’s as if the brighter, more exuberant side of my sartorial predilections smacks the moody dark attire out of its moribund ways when things get too gloomy.

The red item I wear the most, when in need of de-moribundification, is this lovely toggle coat. I figure as Cath was talking about her winter woolies, I would as well.


I love the toggles, the hood (no umbrella needed — take that, Seattle drizzle!) and, most of all, the crimson red of its wool blend exterior.

I’ve owned the coat for nearly three years. It’s the only item I managed to snag from the brief, but delightful Kate Spade line called Saturday, that is now defunct.

It’s been around the world (or bits of Europe and the US) and back, and made me feel pulled together at a fancy dinner in Edinburgh and stomping around the streets of Berlin (with my beautiful and brilliant friend Dexin — see above).

Having lived for nearly five years in places of incomparable gloomy weather, my red coat always makes me feel a wee bit more cheerful: armor against the gray. And for that, I am most grateful.

All of My Papers (all of them) Fit in Here

Yep. All of my tax documents, warranties, and other not-throw-away-able papers fit in that blue box and blue folder. The blue folder is for my legal-size papers (mostly house-purchasing stuff). Everything else is in the blue box with plenty of room to spare. The black accordion folder is for work items that could easily fit in the blue box, but I need it to be more portable than the rest of papers so a separate folder is necessary. And that’s it. All of the papers in my whole house.

I spent the weekend sorting and recycling old documents. Here’s what my study looked like at the beginning of the weekend:


My important papers were mixed in with office supplies, tons of crafts, and random stuff that just didn’t have a home.

As I do with every organizing project, I first re-read the chapter in Marie Kondo’s book about going through your papers. She’s pretty ruthless about papers, basically saying that you should get rid of everything except the very few items that you really need (house deed, tax documents, warranties, etc.).


So I jumped right in. I got rid of all of my product manuals (I wrote down the model numbers in Google Docs for items like my stove and fridge), old vet receipts, medical claims that were super old, credit card statements, 7+ year old tax documents, and other boring, unnecessary paperwork. That was the easy part.

Then came the old letters from friends and family, artwork from college, and my fashion scrapbooks. I’ve kept so many letters from the past because I love letters – they’re so old fashion, and quaint, and proper. Plus, isn’t that what you do with letters? Keep them? Like a Jane Austen heroine. I’m sure Elizabeth Bennet and Anne Elliot kept all of their letters!

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that as much as I love the idea of the letters, I’ve never actually re-read them. I was just moving them around with me from home to home for the past fifteen years. So, what did I decide to do with them? To the shredder! Same with my fashion scrapbooks that I spent hours putting together from magazines in high school. I thought that I would enjoy looking at them after all of these years, but found them pretty boring.

I also got rid of most of my craft items (clay, yarn, tons of different papers, colored pencils, etc.) because I’ve probably spent only about 5% of my adult life really crafting. If that.

Post organizing, all of my remaining crafts, office supplies, and random stuff (travel neck pillow, yoga block, dance shoes) fit into the cabinet. And I was able to clear out so much stuff in the study closest that it now fits all of our suitcases with room to spare!


I’m honestly kind of surprised it took me the whole weekend to sort through it all. Grant it, I did take lots of breaks – took the dogs for a walk, worked out, saw a movie, went out to dinner, did laundry, etc. The papers were easy, but it was the letters, crafts, and other nostalgic bits that completely slowed me down. I should have anticipated that, but I didn’t. Nevertheless, I persevered! And now I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Even though I could close the cabinet doors and shut the closet door, I still hated going into my study before this weekend because I knew all of that stuff was haphazardly piled in there.


Now I feel a sense of calm wash over me when I enter the room. I know exactly where everything is and won’t get annoyed by toppling paper piles.

Before I end this very wordy post, I just want to list a few things that helped me get through the process:

  • There’s a nearby thrift store that I love and always bring my stuff to (it’s Second Life for you local readers). The best part is that they’re open on Sundays. So after I finish a big organization weekend project like this one, I can pack everything up in my car and drop it off. It makes the whole project really feel completely done and then I don’t have to second-guess my give away choices – out of sight, out of mind.
  • My paperwork collection wasn’t too ridiculous when I started the weekend, because twice a year, I go through all of my documents, check the required retention length for each type, and get rid of the ones that are old. I do it twice a year because there’s a local paper shredding event twice a year in Decatur where you can bring bags and bags of your old documents and put them in a giant shredder that can shred everything in seconds. No need to clutter my home with a personal shredder that’ll just burn-out on me.
  • For some of the time that I was sorting through my papers, I listened to The Minimalist podcast. Even though they weren’t necessarily discussing paper clutter, listening to them helped keep me motivated through the whole process.
  • I didn’t worry about having the perfect filing storage system for my remaining papers. The hanging folder box and accordion folder were items I already owned. Eventually, I might get a nicer looking setup or get some better organizing containers for my office supplies, but I don’t really need to.
  • Before starting, I made sure to get all the papers in my house gathered together including the mail on the table near my front door, the fridge (lots of outdated stuff magnetized on there), and the dining room table, which always collects crap.

And there you have it. This post was a long one! If you’ve made it this far, good for you! Now, go celebrate by going through your own paper piles and let me know how you feel afterward.

Tip #1 for living with less

Know that you will get itchy fingers to shop and that’s okay. On those days, avoid Target and other Target-like temptations (see bowls from Anthropologie above — I hear your siren call and I resist. Resist!) at all cost. Cath and I are going to start a series called “Instead of shopping” to give you ideas of what to do when your phalanges get the urge to creep toward your wallet.

Coming to Terms With My Winter Coat

This title might be a little dramatic, but hear me out. Even though I’m on a journey to reduce my worldly possessions, I still care about being somewhat stylish. If I had all the money in the world, I would create my ideal, minimalist wardrobe from the ground up. But I don’t have gobs of money and it’s probably for the best. For one thing, it would be wasteful to give away all of my clothes and go on a shopping spree. Also, I think having a budget and working with what you have builds character – at least that’s what I tell myself.

My winter coat is one of those character-building instances. Before my KonMari purge of my closet, I had at least five winter coats. Most of them were easy to get rid of because they either didn’t fit or they were dated. I was left with two coats: an Eddie Bauer puffer and a wool J. Crew coat. I ended up giving away the J. Crew coat even though it was well-made because the style was a little cute for me – it had toggle buttons.

That left me with the Eddie Bauer coat, which is a fine, practical winter coat, but not the best when it comes nicer outtings – weddings, professional networking events, etc. It just doesn’t look right to mix the informality of a puffer coat with a dress and heels. At least that’s what I thought and had my eye on buying this coat. My only problem was that I didn’t have $250 to spend on a coat. So I’ve had to make do with my puffer coat.

I know in the great scheme of things, it’s not a big deal (first world problems of only having one winter coat and what not), but I just don’t feel super pulled-together when I put on my puffer coat. For example, this outfit would be so much more chic if I had a wool trench on instead.

Nevertheless, I’ve slowly come to terms with only having this one coat this season. For one thing, it’s not overly puffy and frumpy – before cleaning out my closet, I rarely wore it because I thought it made me look like the Michelin man. I’ve also realized that my life is not as glamorous as I thought because I rarely have a fancy event to go to where a nicer coat is required. And lastly, I’ve been inspired by James Spader and his parka.


Eddie Bauer coat (similar) | Baggu tote | YARNZ scarf | Old Navy jeggings | Jeffrey Campbell boots (similar)

How many rings does one girl need?

For the last few posts, I’ve been blabbing on and on about how good I am at getting rid of things and learning to live with less. But there are still a few categories of stuff that I have that I just can’t seem to whittle down. Jewelry is one of them.


I don’t wear a lot of jewelry anymore (though I used to — accessoriessss!), but I can’t give away things given to me. I know the memory of that person is more important than the thing that I have, but that line of thinking doesn’t work for me with jewelry for some reason.

When I sorted through my closet, I did go through my jewelry and got rid of some pieces that I was loath to part with but never wear. I felt very proud of myself — carefully putting the pieces in ziplock baggies so that the Good Will staff didn’t just have a tangled mess to deal with:


But I still have way more left over than I will ever wear: my alma mater ring, a pearl necklace given to me by my cousin when I was 9 or 10, a mood ring given to me by my favorite design client, a butterfly brooch that makes me think of friends in Scotland.


For now I’ll let my collection be and maybe tackle it in the future.I know Cath mentioned how hard it was for her to get rid of books.What do you guys find the hardest to part with and how do you grapple with letting it go?

Does it spark joy?

One of the trickiest parts of trying to live with less, is holding on to stuff for the wrong reason. In the KonMari Method, Marie Kondo suggests holding each item you own before you decide to keep it or toss it. She says if it “sparks joy” you should keep it.

I totally agree with Marie on holding each item and not just standing back and looking at your stuff, but I think the “spark joy” tenet is a bit tricky to follow.

Very rarely do things like electric toothbrushes or spatulas “spark joy” but I do absolutely need both of those things on a regular basis. Another example of things that may or may not spark joy? Shoes!

Here are some of my shoes as an example. See those pretty Rachel Comey silver oxfords up at the top of this post? Those 100%, definitely spark joy all over the place when I wear them or just look adoringly at them in the closet.

But what about these (see below) less inspiring, 4-year-old tennis shoes? These definitely don’t spark joy. Usually when they are on my feet that means I’m sweating up a storm and extremely tired and cranky. So they don’t remind me of good times or give me a feeling of unstoppable effervescence when I clutch them to my bosom. In fact, I feel more “ugh/blegh” when holding them.


According to Marie, that means I should definitely keep the silver shoes and donate the tennis shoes. But I can’t very well wear the sparking-joy-shoes while trying to imitate Kayla Itsines (aka, pretending I can do burpees and comandos like a boss lady), can I?

So instead of holding each item and thinking “does it spark joy,” I suggest holding each item and giving it a little more of a think. For example, my poor maligned tennis shoes; though they don’t spark joy because of their utilitarian nature, I am so grateful to have shoes in my closet in which it makes it easier for me to (pretend to) do burpees and squats. If something does not spark joy, does it nudge your gratitude?

I mentioned this in my closet clean-out post, but another example of sorting practical, non-sparking items is my simple white cami. This cami does not spark joy as it is incredibly unflattering when worn alone, but the lacy top it allows me to wear sends off fireworks of joy, and for that I am very grateful. Thank you, cami.

A final example if you are still finding this whole getting-rid-of-stuff tricky, take these slim looking Gazelles (below). I bought them because I had visions of me looking very fashion-editor-off-duty in cropped pants and long wool coat. I bought them for a ridiculous sum and they hurt my feet worse than any pair of heels I’ve had to break in. But I persevered because Pinterest had me believing I too could look like this.

For many reasons, I did not look like that when I had the unyielding Gazelles on my feet (not least because I might have been grimacing in pain). And, more importantly, it didn’t feel like me at all. I love the a sporty trend, but not so much on me. So as hard as it was to let them go, I did – hopefully to find a home with someone who holds them and slips them on their feet and it makes them feel like magic!


How I clean out my closet

Okay, I know those two photos don’t look dramatically different, but I promise it made a huge difference to me! Also, for those of you that have been following AsianCajuns for a while, you know that I KonMaried last year (and Cath did too) and, in the past five years, I’ve moved overseas (and then moved back stateside). Both of those processes means that I have far fewer clothes than I used to – I had about five times the amount of stuff in 2010 than I do now.

So all of that is to say, please don’t be discouraged looking at these pics if you are thinking that your closet is so much larger and has so much more. I was there too! And you don’t need to move overseas or take six years to pare down your closet.

I’ll walk you through my process of cleaning out my closet, and I followed these same steps when I had five times the amount of stuff. The biggest difference is that now I’m a pro at following them. So, these steps seem like common sense (and they are), but I’ll give you my tips and tricks along the way that make things so much easier. 

(p.s. Before I started to tackle my closet, I spent a week daydreaming and pinning my ideal closet – read last week’s blog post here. This really helped keep me focused during the day I sorted through all my stuff).


Closet clear-out steps:

  1. Take everything out of your closet and lay it on your bed (so you might have to clear your bed first — I did) and on the floor. I put all my clothes on the bed and my shoes and purses on the floor.
  2. Give your closet a good dusting and vacuum or sweep the floor.
  3. Now let’s look at our ginormous mound of stuff spread out all over your room (don’t panic — I promise it will get better before we’re done). I started with the stuff on my floor because I couldn’t comfortably get to the bed without tripping over my shoes and purses mound.
  4. Now here’s a great trick from the Kon Mari method. Hold each item in your hands and really look at it. I know that sounds silly or unnecessary, but I swear this makes all the difference. Because there is so much stuff on your floor, you will be tempted to just glance at stuff and say “oh I know I want/wear/love that” or “I’m gonna just toss all this stuff.” Rash decision making, my friends. Don’t be tempted. Hold each thing and give it its due. This totally changes how you think about your stuff. Marie Kondo suggests to ask each item if it “sparks joy” but I don’t think it has to amount to joy. I think of each item and how it makes me feel. Even if it’s a boring white cami that I have no attachment to, I know it goes under my favorite lacy white blouse which I love, so it feels perfect (but does not strike joy on its own). I’ll be doing a post next week about the idea of “sparking joy” because I found that the hardest of Marie’s tenets to follow.
  5. After you hold each item and really evaluate it, put it in one of three piles: keep, donate or maybe. Holding each item and really thinking about, should keep your “maybe” pile pretty small, but if you need to come back to an item because you’re truly conflicted, that’s what the “maybe” pile is for.
  6. Like I mentioned, I started with all my stuff on the floor first, made my piles, and then started putting the “keep” pile back in my closet. I still had all the clothes on my bed to sort, but I find breaking up the process helps prevent decision-overwhelm. Once I had put all my shoes and bags back in my closet, I had a break. Breaks are important. Don’t let that scary mound of stuff on your bed make you rush through. The more thorough you are and the less hangry you are, the better decisions you’ll make. So take a break, eat a snackypoo and guzzle some water — preferably in another room where your mound-o-stuff can’t watch you.Floor-v2
  7. Okay, watered and fed, let’s tackle the bed! You know the drill now: hold each item and sort into your three piles. If you haven’t done so already, put all your “donate” items in a large bag so that you don’t mistakenly mix your piles. If you need to take a break part way through, definitely take a break. If you are starting to feel overwhelmed again, remember to think back to your ideal closet/wardrobe. Refocus on what you want and how you actually live your life now.
  8. Put all your “keep” items back in your closet. I highly recommend grouping things by color and type. I know that sounds really anal, but I swear both steps make such a big difference when getting dressed in the morning. I hang my clothing mostly by height going left to right: skirts, tees and blouses, dresses, sweaters and jackets.
  9. Now, let’s look at that “maybe” pile. You’ve given these guys some time. Hold each item again and now you must chose to put it in the keep or donate pile. My maybe pile consisted of one item (in the past, there have been much larger maybe piles), a very sensible black cardi that was Cath’s. It’s great for layering and more importantly I hate to give anything away that was Cath’s (because she lives so far away and I miss her — sob!), but I didn’t really like the way it looked on me or made me feel. I felt frumpy and rumply. So ultimately I shushed my sentimental mushiness (it likes to rear its head whenever I do any sort of clear-out) and the black cardi went in the donate pile.
  10. Any items your kept from your maybe pile, put those in their proper place in your closet. And guess what? You’re done! Pat yourself on the back, do a happy dance and plop yourself down in front of your closet and gaze in disbelief at the serene scene before you.


My Book Clean-out

I love houses filled with books. As a kid, I always dreamed of owning a house with a two-story library. Up until I started grad school, I would have considered myself an avid reader. Then grad school started and I was so burned out with school work that it would take me at least six months to finish a non-school-related book.

Now that I’m done with grad school (woohoo!), I want to get back into my reading habits. But I also want to have a more minimalist home. So that means cleaning out my current book collection and spending more time at the local library.

So last weekend I bit the bullet and went through my books:


I gathered all of my books and put them on the dining room table. Most of my books live on the bookshelf in the my dining room, but I had some scattered throughout the house. Having just moved a year and a half ago, I really didn’t have that many books – at least not by my someday-I’ll-have-a-two-story-library standards. So I started this process thinking that I really didn’t have to cull through much.


With that attitude, my first book culling was a fail. I only got rid of books that I absolutely knew I was never going to read or had already read and didn’t have an emotional attachment to. So my book collection shrunk by 15%. Not much.

Then I turned to Marie Kondo’s book, which Lar and I have talked about nonstop, and reread the chapter on books. I was doing it all wrong – not asking if the books sparked joy and not owning up to the fact that I wasn’t going to read any of the books that I had owned for years and never picked up.

So I went back to my pile of books with KonMarie determination and reduced it by (roughly) 65%. Here’s what my bookcase looks like now:


Part of me is terrified that I now live in a house where all of my books can fit on ONE bookcase with plenty of room for other things. But the other part of me thinks that first part is just ridiculous. It’s silly to have books that I’m never going to read or don’t have any purpose. I would rather someone else enjoy those books instead of having them collect dust in my house.

Instead of giving the books to my local charity shop, I’ve been adding them to the local free little libraries around town. Also, someday I’d like to replace the bookcase with something better nicer more stylish else 🙂